In the past few years, there have been remarkable changes taking place in both the range of options and the programming quality available in Holland. The introduction of digital cable and satellite dishes have expanded the number of channels way beyond what was broadcast over airwaves, or on the analog cable systems of just a few years ago.
Now you can see TV from all over the EU and Asia, Africa and the US. With digital cable and satellite you can also order movies or listen to digital audio from dozens of genres. You can even send and receive email on certain systems.
I must warn those moving to Europe that their existing TVs and VCRs from other countries might not work in Holland. The Dutch broadcast using the PAL B/G format, and any NTSC equipment won't work. Unless you have multiple formats available on your equipment you'll be out of luck for viewing Dutch TV, or videos. If you purchase equipment in Holland it might not play your NTSC videos or work back in your home country.
Digital TV is now widespread in Holland, with the rectangular, widescreen 16:9 format now being broadcast on many stations. Digital TVs are everywhere, and much cheaper than in the US. Sets can be had for as little as 500 Euros, and benefit from enhanced resolution, better sound, and extra programming features. So better to buy one of these here (many can be used with other broadcast formats too), than bring your foreign set with you.
Unfortunately the greater quantity of TV signals hasn't improved the overall quality of the programming. With the typical "devil may care" attitude on the part of Dutch media, they have embraced America style commercial hype in their own programming, with Dutch game shows, talk shows, and tabloid type news programs. And that's not the bad/sad news. Thanks to the unrestricted import of American programs and movies, the Dutch now witness almost as much violence on their TV screens as do Americans.
This wasn't the case just a few years ago, and I believe it has now affected Dutch society in ways they haven't yet acknowledged, much less dealt with. Not only has violence increased dramatically in those same years, but gangs, disrespectful attitudes, foul language (the Dutch sure say fuck a lot these days), and fashions have all come from that American inner city urban experience, not of European origin. I fail to see the benefit to the Dutch from such an irresponsible attitude towards the media's programming. Don't they see that this is programming their children to embrace violence and aggression as normal?
I've always admired the Dutch for being so outspoken and tolerant in their media. Also the Dutch must be credited for innovative programming. The Veronica channel, which got its start as a pirate station, broadcasting from an abandoned oil rig, originated the Big Brother TV concept, which other countries copied.
Dutch programming not only allows free speech, but also free expression of the human body including full nudity, sexuality and discussions of things that would make Americans cringe with embarrassment or fume with anger. I've seen penises ejaculating, cameras going in and out of pussies, guests disrobing on talk shows, people in the street pulling down their pants and getting spanked, all in prime time on public stations.
Discussing sex, even demonstrating sex, is one thing. But endless graphic depictions of violence do not serve the public good, and give every indication of being the primary cause of the rise of violence in Dutch society. So come on people, let's cut back on this type of programming, and try to find another way to entertain without pandering to Hollywood's greedy obsessions.
Dutch TV boasts three national public, non-commercial stations, Ned 1,2 & 3. In addition there is a growing number of commercial stations, some broadcasting typical American fare (movies, sitcoms, dramas) mixed with Dutch programming. On your basic system at least half the channels are Dutch language origin (with lots of English programs), the rest are from foreign sources. These include: English (BBC1 & 2), French (TV5), Belgian (TV1), German (ARD), Turkish, Moroccan, Spanish (TVE) and Italian (Rai Uno) stations.
Cable, Digital Cable and satellite sources add many more channels. These include news stations like CNN, BBC World, Euronews, Sky News, MS-NBC, even Bloomberg. Sports channels like Xtreme and ESPN are available. Asian, Arabic, Indian and Chinese stations round out the foreign options. Pay-per-view channels include a wide range of movies (about $3.50 each), all broadcast in their original language, with Dutch subtitles, which makes viewing "foreign" films more difficult unless you understand the language. Sporting events and porno films are also available through your remote control.
Deciding which service to signup for will depend upon your native language and country. If you're English you'd probably opt for a British satellite company like BSkyB. If you're European, say French, you might opt to get Canal+ or Astra. Americans are best served by UPC digital cable which offers up lots of American and British programming including 40 music, 30 movie, 6 news & 5 documentary channels. I'd say almost half the channels have shows in English (at least part of the time). Digital cable is available along with high speed cable internet and phone service all on the same cable! This is currently the best deal in Holland (less than $100 per month, depending upon extras). With cable penetration at about 99% in Amsterdam this makes sense since it requires no effort on your part, just an installation fee for the digital system.
UPDATE: UPC is now installing their new cable box all over Amsterdam. It's a big advance over their last effort. This one is fully interactive, allowing you to do a lot more with your set. You can even order meals from local restaurants online! The cable channels now include 8 football channels for you sports nuts, and more Discovery channels and the travel channel as part of the standard package. There's also games, horoscopes and more interactive features, including the Internet available. Transparent menus allow you to browse all the channels while still watching your current show. In my opinion this is now the best system available in the Netherlands. If you don't have the new Motorola box (which is completely silent, unlike the older Philips model), call up UPC to find out when it will be installed in your neighborhood.
Note:Dutch TV is innovative and very liberal reflecting their famous social tolerance. You can see things in Holland on the tube that you won't find on TV anywhere else.
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